President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris set to make wearing masks mandatory in plan to beat Covid-19

They will direct the CDC to issue clear guidelines on how schools, businesses should navigate the pandemic going forward, including when they should close if cases increase in a given community

                            President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris set to make wearing masks mandatory in plan to beat Covid-19
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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have released a seven-point plan on how to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control in the US. They promise to listen to science, ensure public health decisions are informed by public health professionals, and promote trust, transparency, common purpose, and accountability in the US government.

“The American people deserve an urgent, robust, and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak. President-elect Biden believes that the federal government must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders, and caregivers essential to help us face this challenge, those who are most vulnerable to health and economic impacts, and our broader communities — not to blame others or bail out corporations,” notes the transition website titled the “Biden-Harris plan to beat Covid-19.” Here is a quick rundown of the policies they plan to implement once they take office:

Nationwide mask mandate: The Biden-Harris administration wants a nationwide mask mandate and will call on state governors and local authorities to mandate mask-wearing. Under this, every US resident would be required to wear a face mask when around people outside their household.

In his first public speech post-election victory, Biden has also implored Americans to wear a mask. “It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. It doesn't matter your party, your point of view, we can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives. Please, I implore you, wear a mask. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a way to start pulling the country together,” he said. 

Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic: Stating that “social distancing is not a light switch, it is a dial,” the document says that President-elect Biden will direct the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide specific evidence-based guidance for “how to turn the dial up or down relative to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in a community.” This includes clear guidelines on when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces, when to open or close schools, what steps they need to take to make classrooms and facilities safe, appropriate restrictions on the size of gatherings, and when to issue stay-at-home restrictions.

Under President Donald Trump, states could implement their own pandemic responses without centralized guidance from the federal government. The CDC had, however, issued multiple guidelines on how businesses and workplaces, schools and colleges can reopen safely. In the final hours before election day on November 3, Trump had claimed that a Biden presidency will result in a national Covid-19 lockdown.

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The plan will also focus on providing resources for schools, small businesses, and families to make it through. Accordingly, it calls for creating a “renewable fund” for state and local governments to help prevent budget shortfalls, which may cause states to face steep cuts to teachers and first responders. Providing a “restart package” that helps small businesses cover the costs of operating safely, including things like plexiglass and PPE, and calling on Congress to pass an “emergency package” to ensure schools have the additional resources they need to adapt effectively to coronavirus are also on the agenda.

Access to testing: Biden wants to ramp up diagnostic testing across the country. This implies doubling the number of drive-through testing sites, and establishing a “pandemic testing board” like “Roosevelt’s War Production Board.” “It’s how we produced tanks, planes, uniforms, and supplies in record time, and it’s how we will produce and distribute tens of millions of tests,” it explains.

The administration also intends to invest in next-generation testing, including at-home tests and instant tests, to scale up the US’ testing capacity by orders of magnitude. A US public health jobs corps for mobilizing at least 100,000 Americans across the country with support from trusted local organizations in communities most at risk to “perform culturally competent approaches to contact tracing and protecting at-risk populations,” is part of the plan.

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Personal protective equipment (PPE): Besides expanding America’s testing capacity, the incoming administration will boost the national supply of masks, face shields, and other PPE by invoking the Defense Production Act. The goal is to ensure that supply exceeds demand and stores and stockpiles — especially in hard-hit areas that serve disproportionately vulnerable populations — “are fully replenished.” Long-term, the aim is to build the nation’s manufacturing capability “to ensure we are not dependent on other countries in a crisis.”

Treatment and vaccine distribution: The Biden-Harris administration plans to invest $25 billion in the manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to guarantee it “gets to every American, cost-free.” Clinical data for any approved vaccine will be publicly released. “Ensure that politics plays no role in determining the safety and efficacy of any vaccine. The following 3 principles will guide the Biden-Harris administration: Put scientists in charge of all decisions on safety and efficacy, publicly release clinical data for any vaccine the FDA approves, and authorize career staff to write a written report for public review and permit them to appear before Congress and speak publicly uncensored,” the website notes.

The administration also wants to prevent price gouging for approved coronavirus vaccines and treatments by ensuring everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected, in America “receives the protection and care they deserve.”

Protect older Americans and those at high risk: A new Covid-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force will address racial disparities in both public health and economic response implemented during the pandemic. Once the pandemic ends, this task force will transition into a permanent Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force. Besides, the Biden administration wants to create a nationwide pandemic dashboard so that Americans can track in real-time whether local transmission is actively occurring in their zip codes. “This information is critical to helping all individuals, but especially older Americans and others at high risk, understand what level of precaution to take,” it adds.

Prepare to prevent, mitigate future pandemic threat: The Biden-Harris administration wants to “rebuild and expand defenses” to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats, including those coming from China. As part of this, the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, originally established by the Obama-Biden administration, will be immediately restored. In another reversal of Trump-era decisions, the US will “immediately restore” its ties with the World Health Organization (WHO), “which — while not perfect — is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.” The Predict program, which is the US Agency for International Development’s pathogen-tracking program, will be relaunched and strengthened. More CDC scientists will also be deployed so that the US has “eyes and ears on the ground, including rebuilding the office in Beijing.”

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